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Pressure builds for change as COP26 nears

22 October 2021

Activists are out in force in the run-up to the climate summit, Joe Ware reports


Christian climate activists walking from Cornwall to Glasgow stopped in Dunbar on Sunday for a day of activities, readings and contemplation, organised by the Young Christian Network Relay

Christian climate activists walking from Cornwall to Glasgow stopped in Dunbar on Sunday for a day of activities, readings and contemplation, organise...

THE Church of England’s investments in fossil-fuel companies came to the fore this week as activists protested at Lambeth Palace on Sunday. Members of Christian Climate Action, dressed as penitents, were doused in fake oil and glued themselves to the pavement outside the residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

In the run-up to the COP26 climate summit, which begins in Glasgow on 31 October, campaigners have called on the Church to disinvest from fossil-fuel companies by 31 December, and to speak out for immediate action to prevent climate catastrophe.

In a letter delivered to Archbishop Welby on behalf of the group, Val King wrote: “It is our firm conviction that large fossil-fuel corporations are incapable of making ‘meaningful sacrifices’, and it is they and political parties across the globe often funded by them who hold the future of our planet in the balance. We therefore urge you to announce immediate divestment from fossil fuels, and we call upon you to urge world leaders at COP26 to take bold, unpopular decisions and actions to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.”

Archbishop Welby was set to be questioned about the Church’s fossil-fuel holdings, and other issues, by a group of young Christian climate activists on Wednesday. They have been taking part in a walking relay from Cornwall, the location of the G7 this summer, to Glasgow.

Naomi-Ruth Bookless, aged 20, an organiser with Young Christian Climate Network, said: “As Christians, we’re called to steward God’s earth and love our neighbours. The effects of climate change are damaging creation and threatening the lives of humans and animals across the world, now and for future generations. This event is an opportunity for church leaders to listen to their young people and understand why and how to respond to the climate crisis. Together, we must rise to the moment.”

CHRISTIAN CLIMATE ACTIONCampaigners deliver a letter to Archbishop Welby at Lambeth Palace on Sunday

In a statement provided before the event, Archbishop Welby said: “Caring for God’s creation is at the heart of our calling as Christians. In doing so we offer thanks to the God who created us. It protects those who are suffering from climate change. It witnesses to a care for justice.

“I am deeply grateful to Tearfund and Christian Aid for bringing together a group of passionate young activists ahead of COP26. I hope people will join me in praying for their work, and for a world where we love God and neighbour, worship Christ and show our commitment by treasuring our creation, as part of ensuring abundance and flourishing are made possible for all.”

On Monday, just across the Thames from Lambeth Palace, faith leaders from Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, and Hindu groups handed in a statement on behalf of 75,000 people from the UK faith communities to the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street. As the host of the COP26 talks, the letter said that he had a “unique position to lead the world in tackling the climate crisis”.

The Bishop of Reading, the Rt Revd Olivia Graham, represented the Church of England as well as the Climate Sunday Coalition, which comprises 2128 churches from 30 denominations calling on the UK government to act on climate change. “I am proud and delighted to be standing shoulder to shoulder with other faith leaders today as we represent the millions who belong to faith communities to urge our government to put aside short-term political considerations and act on planetary warming, which is the key issue of this decade,” she said.

CAFODBishop Olivia Graham was among those handing in a climate petition to 10 Downing Street

“There must be nothing half-hearted about our Government’s leadership of COP26. Lives and livelihoods are already being lost across the globe due to the climate crisis. The survival of future generations is at stake. We all have a global moral responsibility, and today we urge our Government to act with confidence and conviction. They have our prayers and our support.”

A number of Christian charities supported the statement. The head of policy at World Vision UK, Gareth Wallace, said: “As a child-focused organisation, we have seen how it is the most vulnerable who experience the hardest impact of climate change. The lower-economic countries we work in have had minimal impact on the climate; however, these countries, and these communities, are suffering the consequences of a crisis they did not cause.”

The campaigns officer at Christian Aid, Alana Maytum, said: “Faith communities across the UK are leading the way in their response to the climate crisis. From making changes and commitments in their own lives and communities, through to advocating for change at a national level. We now need to see our Prime Minister take heed and lead the way at COP26.”

The interfaith movement for action on climate change was not confined to the UK this week. On Sunday, St John’s, Waterloo, and several other churches in London, Manchester, Leeds, Wakefield, and other parts of the UK joined people of faith in more than 41 countries in a globally co-ordinated action under the banner Faiths 4 Climate Justice.

The methodist churchA banner on the exterior of the Methodist Central Hall, Westminster

Globally, more than 470 events were organised to call for an end to new fossil-fuel projects and deforestation, a commitment to green jobs, and payments from wealthy countries to address permanent losses and damages experienced by those most feeling the impact of climate change.

The day began on an island off the coast of Fiji. The Revd James Bhagwan, of the Pacific Council of Churches, stood in rising seas that now submerge the island at high tide, holding a sign that said: “For the sake of all beings: no more fossil fuels.”

The Vicar of St John’s, Canon Giles Goddard, said: “No religious tradition says that we should destroy the planet. Yet this is exactly what governments, financial institutions, and major corporations are either doing or allowing — after knowing for years that fossil fuels cause climate change. It’s deeply unjust and wrong.”

Climate-focused announcements were made this week from Westminster and the City of London. The president of COP26, Alok Sharma, and Archbishop Welby were at the opening of the London Stock Exchange to launch the Global Climate Transition Centre: a scheme led by the Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI). The centre will provide detailed data about the ways in which thousands of companies are aligning with a net-zero-emissions pathway.

Adam Matthews, who chairs the TPI and is chief responsible-investment officer for the Church of England Pensions Board, said: “This Centre will underpin the global climate transition, directly empowering all investors to take action and judge climate performance through the same lens. It’s a critical component of the post-Glasgow COP financial infrastructure enabling investors to deliver on their commitments.”

The Government also announced its strategy for attaining the UK goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. “Build Back Greener” includes plans to expand electric vehicle use, offshore wind as well as support for nuclear power, and grants for households to replace boilers with low-carbon heat pumps.

The Prime Minister said: “The UK’s path to ending our contribution to climate change will be paved with well-paid jobs, billions in investment, and thriving green industries — powering our green industrial revolution across the country.”

The executive director at Green Alliance, Shaun Spiers, said, however: “We need a more ambitious response from the Chancellor at the spending review to turn these promises into jobs, growth, and benefits to consumers; and, if the Government truly wants to level up the country, we’ll need much more investment once the dust has settled on the COP26 Glasgow climate summit.”

AlamyThe founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, shakes hands with the Prime Minister during the Global Investment Summit at the Science Museum, in London, on Tuesday. They agreed a partnership to invest in new clean-energy technology

The Government also announced a new partnership with the founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, to generate £400 million to invest in new clean-energy technology. The initiative with the Breakthrough Energy Catalyst will mean that £200 million of state funding will be matched by £200 million from the private sector over the next ten years.

Mr Gates said: “Our partnership with the United Kingdom will accelerate the deployment of these critical climate solutions, helping to make them more affordable and accessible. In order to achieve net-zero emissions, we need to reduce the costs of clean technologies so they can compete with and replace the high-emitting products we use today.”

Leader Comment: COP26 and the green vote
Comment: Investors are stepping up to climate challenge
Features: Glasgow’ 21: when change must come

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